How to Select a Flying School


Learning to fly is a challenge many Canadians aspire to accomplish. Piloting a light aircraft can be a rewarding adventure that is not only fun but can lead to interesting career and travel opportunities.

In the Flight Training Division of Transport Canada, we are regularly asked, "I live in Town or City X, where is the best place to take flying lessons?" Transport Canada is not in the business of ranking flying schools. Our goal is make sure they are all operated safely. However, we can offer some general advice on how to choose a flying school that will suit your needs and budget.

If you have little or no aviation experience, selecting a flying school can be overwhelming and is best not done on impulse. Careful consideration of a number of factors will assist you in finding a school that meets your needs.

We suggest the following steps:

  1. Determine your aviation goals (recreational or career);
  2. Identify the type of school that will best serve to achieve those goals;
  3. Make a list of schools;
  4. Visit the school in person;
  5. Assess the bottom line-cost; and
  6. Make a choice.

Now lets look at these steps in detail.

Step 1 - Determine your aviation goals (recreational or career)

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Why do I want to learn to fly?
  • What is my ultimate goal?
    • Do I want to fly for fun? or
    • Am I seeking a flying career?
  • Will my flying be in the local area or will I use a small aircraft for travel?
  • Do I want to own an aeroplane or will I rent?
  • Am I able to train full or part-time?

How you answer these questions will significantly affect the school you choose.

Step 2 - Identify the type of school that will best serve to achieve those goals

Everyone who flies in Canada must hold a pilot licence or permit. The training to obtain these is regulated by the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs).

Schools offering training for "recreational" flight training, i.e. ultra-lights, balloons, gliders or gyroplanes, must advise Transport Canada of where they are operating and who is the principal instructor.

Schools providing flight training in aeroplanes or helicopters are issued Flight Training Unit Operator Certificates. These schools are subject to stringent operating requirements and periodic inspection by Transport Canada.

A third type of flying school is one affiliated with a provincially accredited college or university. These organizations are subject to the same regulations outlined in Part 406 of the CARs and have a complimentary post secondary program leading to a college diploma or university degree.

Step 3 - Make a list of schools

Once you have given some thought to what you want, assemble a list of possibilities and request all available literature from each school. Some schools have internet web sites. Ask for an outline or curriculum for each program in which you are interested and a copy of the school's regulations and flight operations procedures.

Do not base your decision on the literature alone!!! Do not be misled by glossy pamphlets and catchy sales pitches. Look for informative substance. This can be found in photocopied sheets as well as full-color brochures. While reviewing the material, take notes for verification during the school visit.

Some things to look for are:

  • The school's philosophy, goals and objectives. Do they match or come close to yours?
  • Is there housing, financial aid and additional training available such as aerobatics or multi-engine training to broaden your experience?
  • How long has the school been in business?
  • What are the credentials of the operators?
  • How many students have graduated and how many do they have right now?
  • What is the classroom facility like?
  • What kind of aircraft are used for training?
  • What kind of services are available at the airport (control tower, flight service station, etc.)?

Step 4 - Visit the school in person

If you do nothing else in your search - VISIT THE SCHOOL!! Your first contact will likely be a line instructor or the chief flight instructor. Listen closely and ask questions about everything. Do not be shy. If you do not understand something, ask! During your tour, ensure that no area is left unvisited, from administrative offices to the maintenance area. Some questions to ask are as follows:

  • How does the CFI supervise flight training in the school?
  • How many students does each instructor have?
  • Will you have a principal instructor or will your bookings dictate who you fly with?
  • How is the training scheduled (1.5 versus a 2 hour booking)?
  • How are cancellations due to weather or maintenance dealt with?
  • Is there a no show policy?
  • How are student training records kept and by whom?
  • Is groundschool run continuously or on an as required basis?
  • How does the school's insurance cover you as a student from both personal protection and personal liability perspectives?

What about Ground School?

Learning to fly requires that you develop essential piloting skills. However, another aspect of flight training is the academic knowledge required to understand how, where, and when to fly safely. This is accomplished in ground school.

Ground school usually takes the form of an instructor teaching a scheduled class over a period of several weeks. Alternatively, a self-paced study program using video or audio tapes and/or computer-based programs may be offered. Which is better depends on you. If you are self-disciplined, a self-starter and self-paced, video programs are excellent learning tools. You can "attend" ground school on your schedule and review the tapes as needed. If you need the discipline of the classroom, the choice is obvious. Perhaps the best option is a combination of the two. Many schools have a traditional classroom ground school and a resource room that contains self-paced materials for additional study.

Many schools are also using instrument ground trainers (or simulators) in primary training. They are a real benefit in instrument training. Some are PC based while others are actual mock-ups of training aircraft. Look for a Transport Canada approval to ensure that a simulator will provide credit for training you receive. Even if you cannot credit the time on the ground training, its operating costs are far less than the real aircraft and may actually save you money by helping you learn more quickly.

Check out the training aircraft!!

The training aircraft is where you practice in the air what you have learned on the ground. High-wing or low, it does not make much difference. What is important is how well airplane is equipped and maintained.

The number of aircraft a school has depends on the number of active students. Generally speaking, one trainer serves four or five full-time students. This ratio may be higher with part-time students. Another consideration is the fleet's mix of primary, advanced, and multi-engine aircraft.

Because training aircraft are flown often and sometimes hard, how a school maintains them is important for both safety and scheduling. Ask questions on how the maintenance is carried out and the overall reliability of the school's aircraft fleet.

Meet the flight instructors!!

A good flight instructor is a vital key to you becoming a safe and skilled pilot. Do not hesitate to ask questions about the training and the experience of the instructors. The most experienced and highest rated instructor holds a Class I Flight Instructor Rating. The newest instructor has a Class IV Flight Instructor Rating. You could also talk to some of the other students at the school to ask about their instructors.

A good way to get acquainted with your instructor is through the familiarization flight. During your lesson assess your instructor's attitude. Only you can determine what personality best fits yours. A good instructor is one who strives for excellence and will work with you until it is achieved. He or she is also someone who cares about you not only as a student but as a person as well. If you do not get a good feeling about your instructor do not be afraid to ask to fly with someone else.

After your tour, the instructor will probably suggest a familiarization flight. This is offered by the school to get you in the air and experience the fun of flying first hand. This is the best way to get a sense as to how the training will be conducted and how interested the instructor is in providing you with a good service.

After going through all of this, ask for references from current students and past graduates. See if they had any problems and how they were resolved. Another information resource may be the local Better Business Bureau or Chamber of Commerce. They can offer insights on the school's business practices.

Step 5 - Assess the bottom line-cost

Compared to most of your activities, learning to fly is expensive. But remember, you are investing in your education, in skills that will open new worlds and opportunities. Flying is an activity of purpose, personal satisfaction, achievement and pleasure. It is also a never ending learning process, and as with all education, your initial training provides the foundation for any advanced flight training you may wish to pursue.

Looking at the bottom line, you will notice that, adjusting for location and differences in training programs, schools more or less charge about the same. Only you can determine if what you get for your money is fair. As with any other major purchase, if a deal seems too good to be true, it usually is.

When comparing costs, make sure you are comparing "apples to apples". Some schools base their prices on the Transport Canada minimum-time requirements, for example 45-hours for a private pilot licence. Others base their prices on an "average completion time" figure. Some include books and supplies, ground school, flight testing and written examination fees. Others do not. In the other words, read the fine print and ensure that you are making a comparison of equals.

Most schools in Canada allow you to pay for your training as it occurs. Some schools offer financing, and others have connections to financial institutions that can provide loans for flight training. Some schools also offer "block-time" prices if you pay in advance for a certain amount of training or flight time. This can often offer substantial savings.

Some schools guarantee their training - that you will earn your permit/licence for a fixed price no matter how long it takes. Read the fine print carefully, because many of these guarantees expire after a certain number of flight hours. If you have not achieved your goal in this time, the school will still train you, but you will have to pay for the training that takes place above the guarantee's ceiling.

Inquire about refunds. If you have pre-paid for flight training and circumstances prevent you from continuing, you should be familiar with the school's refund policy.

Aircraft rental and the instructor time are usually charged "Hobbs meter" time, which is a timing device activated by oil pressure. If the engine is running, so is the meter. Even if you are sitting on the ground, you are still charged for it. Find out if the instructor is paid for pre- and post-flight briefings in addition to flight time. These are crucial parts of every lesson, and if the instructor is not paid for them, you may get abbreviated briefings before you start the engine, and then get the rest of the briefing while the engine and the meter are running.

There is an old saying that says, "Time is money." In your research, make sure that you are getting the most quality training for your dollar.

Step 6 - Make a Choice

The flight school you ultimately choose depends on the quality training you desire in a method convenient to your schedule. In earning your pilot permit/licence, you will have achieved a "licence" to learn. Aviation is an ever-changing activity, and good pilots are always in training.

Perhaps the final deciding factor between several schools that are running in a dead heat is personality. Like people, schools have personalities. Some are very serious, while others are more familial in nature. Select the one that matches your personality.

If you have any other questions that are not answered here, please contact us.

Good luck and enjoy!!!

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